“Kenyans will not accept the results of a rigged election. No force will stop Kenyans attaining what they want. The River Nile is unstoppable. It must flow to the sea.” — Raila Odinga
Archive for December, 2007
An East African living in the U.S., holding citizenship here but retaining ties to her country of origin, greeted me over the holidays with an exhortation to do more for the poor in Africa. Provoked by concern over the problem of “aid dependency” — the powerlessness that grows out of the soil of hand-outs — she questioned whether I understood that very poor people may lack even the basic ingredients for self-reliance. I responded with a different question and the start of answer:
“There is no question a welfare system ought to exist for people who have little or nothing. the question who pays for it. I’d like to see rich Ugandans, even rich Ugandans living in North America, pay for these essential welfare services for the needy in their own society. Having rich white people from far away pay for welfare services for poor Ugandans may seem like a sweet deal to the rich Ugandans in Kampala and the US, but these remote white people don’t have any stake in Uganda, they have no committment to making sure welfare services — deserved and necessary transfer income to the poor — actually happen. If rich Ugandans in Kampala and the US pay for these welfare services, you can bet they will make these services actually deliver the goods.
So the question of ends is not in dispute. Poverty demands a response — in Africa just as in the U.S. The question is the means of assisting the needy. Do the rich Ugandans pay, doing the rich whites pay, do they pay — and then how do the poor hold accountable the people who are delivering them services.”
After the surprise arrest of one of Nigeria’s most corrupt former governors two weeks ago, I asked whether the move against James Ibori, a close ally of Nigeria’s new president, was a sign of a new willingness to challenge corrupt government officials — or merely an enormous bureaucratic mistake. The Financial Times, in a brief report today, suggests that indeed a very large mistake was made. The FT reports that Nigeria’s anti-corruption chief, Nuhu Ribadu, has been stripped of his post at the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Ribadu reportedly has been dispatched on a year-long training program. The collapse of the Ibori case can be expected to occur shortly.
Anti-corruption drives will continue in Nigeria of course. But as they benefit from Nigeria’s greatest oil boom ever, a small elite of Nigeria kleptocrats can be expected to continue to loot their country’s resources — and lavish spending on themselves and their families. No amount of shaming by Westerners will change this. Nigeria’s elite is proud, aggressive and essentially immune international criticism. The parallels with Russia’s oil elite are striking. Eager to taste the fruits of material life and cultural freedom in Britain and the U.S., Nigeria’s wealthy are nonetheless increasingly impatient with the nanny attitudes of Western do-gooders. And the prospect of continued disapproval means little or nothing. Nigeria has a new friend in China, and wealthy Nigerians — like their counterparts in Moscow — know they will never be lonely.
“Chinaâ€™s Africa policy shows that globalization is increasingly divorced from Westernization. We have grown accustomed to the idea that Africa needs us; itâ€™s time to recognize that we, like China, need Africa.” — James Traub
“In retrospect, the whole great European project in Africa, stretching more than a hundred years, can only seem a vast obstacle thrust across every reasonable avenue of African progress …. It taught that nothing useful could develop without denying Africa’s past, without a ruthless severing from Africa’s roots and a slavish acceptance of models drawn from entirely different histories.” — Basil Davidson
“In Africa, people look at private healthcare with suspicion. People assume that if you’re for-profit you’re out to fleece everybody. But … in many areas, we’re delivering a far more efficient and accountable service than the government.” Dr. Ian Clark, International Medical Group (Kampala, Uganda)
The Economic Commission on Africa, a sleepy member of the U.N. family, has added its voice to the growing chorus of optimists about prospects for Africa’s economic performance. In its new report on the region’s economy, the commission forecasts robust growth, reinforcing similar forecasts from the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank. The report’s analysis is worth pondering, especially the emphasis on the importance of diversification, Africa’s lack of it and how government policies might promote greater economic diversification. Lack from the report is a close examination of how the private sector in Africa drives both concentration and diversification of economic activity and why. The over-emphasis on the role of government policy has long characterized the Economic Commission on Africa. The reasons for this one-sidedeness are understandable. Government policies in Africa remain sub-optimal in economic terms. However, by failing to identify the challenges facing the private sector in the quest for diversification, the ECA unwittingly reinforces the view, still prevalent in Africa, that getting the right government policies will by itself lead to prosperous and diverse economies in the different sub-regions of Africa. The private sector thrives in many places in the world without good government policies. And African growth remains hampered more by capital flight and a lack of inward investment from around the world than by poor government policies. The two factors of course are related but they also operate independently. The business class of Africa remains insufficiently represented by Africans themselves, who continue to too-often look outside their home ground for business and professional opportunities. As Paul Collier points out in various ways in “The Bottom Billion,” his study of poor countries (many of which are in Africa), the draining of talent and capital from sub-Saharan Africa makes “it harder for these nations to decisively escape the trap of bad policy and governance.”
The arrest of James Ibori, former governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta state, presents a crucial test for the national government of Umaru Yar’Adua. Ibori was arrested this week by Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency and charged with stealing an undisclosed amount of state funds believed to total in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Ibori, out of office because of term limits, is now no longer immune from prosecution. He is believed to be a financial supporter of President Yar’Adua. Nigerian federalism on paper allows a great deal of oil to flow to parts of the states that generated it. In practice, these states are vehicles for political cliques to loot the country’s resource wealth. In arresting Ibori, Nigerian advocates of clean government are once again declaring an offensive. Past failure is no reason to presume things cannot be different this time in Nigeria, though probably the past remains prologue.
Penguin, the distinguished publisher, plans to release in January an intriguing book, “The Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Kama and His Nation,” about the founding father of Botswana and the English woman he loved, married and spent the rest of his life with. White women marrying Africa leaders was the rage some 40 to 50 years ago, a peculiar sideshow in the “liberation” of African peoples from their colonial masters. The french placed many spies in the bedrooms of prominent African francophones in the 50s and 60s and Ghana’s Nkrumah, though devotedly married to an Egyptian in order to highlight his committment to Pan-Africanism, maintained a close friendship with an English lady. Kama of Botswana, irregardless of his romantic attachments, was a political puppet of the Britain that continued to dominate Botswana long after nominal independence. Franz Fanon, who published his pathbreaking study of inter-racial romance, “Black Sin, White Masks,” in 1952, would have destroyed Kama without breaking a sweat. This is not to imply that post-colonial lackeys were the only African men who wanted to comingle with white women in bed. Even the Congolese tower of black power, Lumumba, in a well documented example, asked the CIA on a visit to Washington to provide him with a blonde prostitute along with his hotel room. The CIA did and he later calmly informed his CIA contact tha he thoroughly enjoyed himself. The prostitute probably did too, though no records exist about her reactions.